Quality is the overriding consideration in Audi’s development and production operations. The measures that assure this include the validation runs before a new model is launched; these take place on several different continents and provide Audi with a final opportunity to establish whether a model also meets the requirements and expectations of customers locally – true to the motto “We delight customers worldwide”.
Before Audi Quality Assurance and the Board of Management issue a total vehicle release for a development project, what is known as validation testing is performed with cars from the test and pilot series. The focus here is on once again carefully examining all aspects of relevance to the customer.
Once all parts from the production tools and the software for the new car are available – about half a year before the start of production – validation testing can begin. During this process, Quality Assurance employees drive about 600 pre-production cars over distances of 50,000 km or 100,000 km annually. They are driven on public roads under the same conditions that customers will experience later on. In this testing, the experts check practical aspects of the design as well as the level of component quality.
Many different types of drivers participate in validation testing – low-mileage and high-mileage drivers, women and men, young and old, tall and short, sporty drivers and more reserved drivers. They record their general impressions and evaluate special attributes covering all areas of the car. This encompasses such aspects as forces to move the steering wheel and pedals, the feel and acoustic behaviour of controls and the functionality of roof carriers, auxiliary heating systems and luggage compartment unlocking.
Infotainment and driver assistance systems are playing an increasingly important role here. In the navigation system, for example, an easy-to-understand menu guidance principle merits as much attention as function and feel. Are the location and shape of the controls right for drivers of all builds? Is the sound of the rotary pushbutton click subtle and sophisticated? This “Audi click” may last only a matter of milliseconds, but it signals the company’s entire ethos of precision and sophistication to the ear of the user.
Validation testing takes place both at home and abroad on a variety of continents, in many cases under extreme conditions. In Singapore, for example, air humidity is usually very high; here condensation water can elicit functional problems. In the equally rainy but cool climate of Ireland, the function of the wipers is more important than elsewhere. In Beijing, on the other hand, the focus is on components that are particularly stressed in stop-and-go traffic such as the parking brake, clutch and thermal management – and last but not least the horn. Another issue of considerable importance in China is the quality of available fuel.
In interior regions of Asia, the streets and mountain roads stir up a lot of dust, which can damage mechanical parts such as window lifts. The bitter cold often prevailing in northern regions can cause plastic parts to become brittle and grate, and electronic control modules may start up slowly. Then there is the problem that dry, fine snow can plug up the induction air ducts to the engine. Cars destined for cold countries are therefore fitted with special screens.
Audi takes care to put local drivers behind the wheel for validation testing in export markets, so that the results reflect the typical driving habits and driver expectations of the country in question. Chinese drivers, for example, generally shift gears early, while US customers use the air conditioning intensively. Meanwhile, Russian customers attach particularly great importance to a heating system that responds rapidly.
Every Audi is a technical jigsaw puzzle comprising thousands of individual parts. During validation testing, the Quality Assurance employees therefore use their expertise to assess the many different details as well as the overall picture. Members of the Board of Management conduct their own evaluation drives on a regular basis – because Audi’s top management possesses a great deal of expert know-how. The legendary “petrol in their blood” and passionate discussions about the character and DNA of every model are integral components of the mature corporate culture.